Telegraph Avenue (Chabon)

Telegraph Avenue
Michael Chabon, 2012
HarperCollins
480 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061493348


Summary
As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there—longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, two semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland.

When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples' already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe's life.

An intimate epic, a NorCal Middlemarch set to the funky beat of classic vinyl soul-jazz and pulsing with a virtuosic, pyrotechnical style all its own, Telegraph Avenue is the great American novel we've been waiting for. Generous, imaginative, funny, moving, thrilling, humane, triumphant, it is Michael Chabon's most dazzling book yet. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—May 24, 1963
Where—Washington, D.C.
Education—B.A., University of Pittsburgh; M.F.A., University
   of California at Irvine
Awards—Pulitzer Prize, 2001 (for Kavalier & Clay)
Currently—Berkeley, California


In 1987, at 24, Michael Chabon was living a graduate student's dream. His masters thesis for the writing program at UC Irvine, a novel called The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was not only published—it was published to the tune of a $155,000 advance, a six-figure first printing, a movie deal, and a place on the bestseller lists. Mysteries, a coming-of-age story about a young man caught between romances with a man on one side, a woman on the other, and the shadow of his gangster father over it all, drew readers with its elegant prose and an irresistibly cool character, Art Bechstein, racing through a long, hot summer.

Following this auspicious debut, Chabon penned a follow-up short story collection, then hit a serious snag. After five years of fits and starts, he abandoned a troublesome work in progress and began work on another novel, a wry, smart book about, natch, an author hoplessly stuck writing his endless, shapeless novel! With 1995's Wonder Boys and its successful film adaptation by Curtis Hanson, Chabon found both critical praise and a wider audience.

In the year 2000, Chabon rose to the challenge of attempting something on a more epic scale. That something was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the story of two young, Jewish comic book artists in the 1940s. Like Chabon's other books, it explored a relationship between two men and dealt with their maturation. But unlike his other books, the novel was grander in scope and theme, blending the world of comic books, the impact of World War II, and the lives of his characters. It won a Pulitzer, and secured Chabon's place as an American talent unafraid to paint broad landscapes with minute detail and aching emotion.

In 2007 Chabon published The Yiddish Policeman's Union, followed two years later by Manhood for Amateurs, a memoir and his first non-fiction. Both works received high praise.

Chabon's ability to capture modern angst in funny, intelligently plotted stories has earned him comparisons to everyone from Fitzgerald to DeLillo, but he has fearlessly wandered outside the conventions of the novel to write screenplays, children's books, comics, and pulp adventures. Clearly, Michael Chabon views his highly praised talent as a story that hasn't yet reached its climax.

Extras
• Chabon usually writes from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.

• He has a side interest in television writing, having written a pilot for CBS (House of Gold) that did not get picked up, and a second one for TNT.Chabon also has an interest in screenwriting; he was attached to X-Men but dropped from the project when director Bryan Singer signed on. Now he is adapting The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay for the big screen.

• After slaving for five years on a book called Fountain City (parts of which can be read on his web site), Chabon finally decided it was not going to jell and abandoned it. At a low point, he switched gears and began Wonder Boys, the story (of course) of an author hopelessly stuck writing his endless, shapeless novel. (From Barnes & Noble.)



Book Reviews
[A]n amazingly rich, emotionally detailed story that addresses [Chabon's] perennial themes—about fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and the consolations of art—while reaching outward to explore the relationship between time past and time present, the weight (or lightness, as the case may be) of history, and the possibility of redemption and forgiveness…Mr. Chabon can write about just about anything…And write about it not as an author regurgitating copious amounts of research, but with a real, lived-in sense of empathy and passion…for the most part he does such a graceful job of ventriloquism with his characters that the reader forgets they are fictional creations. [Chabon's] people become so real to us, their problems so palpably netted in the author's buoyant, expressionistic prose, that the novel gradually becomes a genuinely immersive experience—something increasingly rare in our ADD age.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


A genuinely moving story about race and class, parenting and marriage…Chabon is inarguably one of the greatest prose stylists of all time, powering out sentences that are the equivalent of executing a triple back flip on a bucking bull while juggling chain saws and making love to three women.
Esquire


 Chabon’s hugely likable characters all face crises of existential magnitude, rendered in an Electra Glide flow of Zen sentences and zinging metaphors that make us wish the needle would never arrive at the final groove.
Elle


A beautiful, prismatic maximalism of description and tone, a sly meditation on appropriation as the real engine of integration, and an excellent rationale for twelve-page sentences.
GQ


Virtuosity” is the word most commonly associated with Chabon, and if Telegraph Avenue, the latest from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, is at first glance less conceptual than its predecessors, the sentences are no less remarkable. Set during the Bush/Kerry election, in Chabon’s home of Berkeley, Calif., it follows the flagging fortunes of Brokeland Records, a vintage record store on the titular block run by Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, currently threatened with closure by Pittsburgh Steeler’s quarterback-turned-entrepreneur Gibson “G Bad” Goode’s plans to “restore, at a stroke, the commercial heart of a black neighborhood” with one of his Dogpile “Thang” emporiums. The community mobilizes and confronts this challenge to the relative racial harmony enjoyed by the white Jaffe; his gay Tarantino-enthusiast son, Julie; and the African-American Archy, whose partner, Gwen Shanks, is not only pregnant but finds the midwife business she runs with Aviva, Jaffe’s wife, in legal trouble following a botched delivery. Making matters worse is Stallings’s father, Luther, a faded blaxploitation movie star with a Black Panther past, and the appearance of Titus, the son Archy didn’t know he had. All the elements of a socially progressive contemporary novel are in place, but Chabon’s preference for retro—the reader is seldom a page away from a reference to Marvel comics, kung fu movies, or a coveted piece of ’70s vinyl—quickly wears out its welcome. Worse, Chabon’s approach to race is surprisingly short on nuance and marred by a goofy cameo from a certain charismatic senator from Illinois.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) If any novelist can pack the entire American zeitgeist into 500 pages, it's Chabon (The Yiddish Policeman's Union). Here, he deftly treads race, class, gender, and generation lines, showing how they continue to define us even as they're crossed.... [A] prodigious novel. Ambitious, densely written, sometimes very funny, and fabulously over the top, here's a rare book that really could be the great American novel. Highly recommended. —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal


(Starred review.) A magnificently crafted, exuberantly alive, emotionally lustrous, and socially intricate saga.... Bubbling with lovingly curated knowledge about everything from jazz to pregnancy.... Chabon’s rhapsodically detailed, buoyantly plotted, warmly intimate cross-cultural tale of metamorphoses is electric with suspense, humor, and bebop dialogue…. An embracing, radiant masterpiece.
Booklist


(Starred review.) An end-of-an-era epic celebrating the bygone glories of vinyl records, comic-book heroes and blaxploitation flicks in a world gone digital. The novelist, his characters and the readers who will most love this book all share a passion for popular culture and an obsession with period detail. Set on the grittier side in the Bay Area of the fairly recent past (when multimedia megastores such as Tower and Virgin were themselves predators rather than casualties to online commerce), the plot involves generational relationships between two families, with parallels that are more thematically resonant than realistic....Yet the warmth Chabon...feels toward his characters trumps the intricacies and implausibilities of the plot, as the novel straddles and blurs all sorts of borders: black and white, funk and jazz, Oakland and Berkeley, gay and straight....
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. There are many different variations on father-and-son relationships—both real and makeshift—explored in the novel. What might the author be trying to convey through these complicated liaisons?

2. The majority of the characters in the novel are members of some minority group—African American, Jewish, Asian. Would you say that Telegraph Avenue is fundamentally a novel about race?

3. Like her husband, Archy, Gwen is African American, but of a decidedly different social class, upbringing, and education. How do these differences affect her marriage, as well as her position in this close-knit Oakland community—both in her own view and in the view of others?

4. Telegraph Avenue, the real-life Bay Area street at the center of the story, is described as "the ragged fault where the urban plates of Berkeley and Oakland subducted." How do the conflicting cultures of upper-middle-class Berkeley and working-class Oakland clash in the novel?

5. Why do Archy and Nat see the imminent arrival of ex-NFL quarterback Gibson Goode's mega-mall as a threat not only to their record shop, but to the community at large?

6. As the legendary Berkeley Birth Partners, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe have worked together for many years, and their husbands are business partners as well. Beyond their professional lives, what sense do you get of the friendship between these two women? How does the crisis that confronts their business bring out the best and/or worst in their pairing?

7. When a home birth goes awry, the midwife Gwen goes ballistic when faced with criticism from an obstetrician at the hospital. The emotional outburst severely jeopardizes her career. Do you think she is justified in her reaction, or should she have tempered her response?

8. Telegraph Avenue is set during the summer of 2004 in Oakland, California. Do this time and place have special bearing on the events of the novel, or could the story take place in a different or more ambiguous setting?

9. An intriguing "character" in the novel is Fifty-Eight, the African grey parrot that belongs to Cochise Jones. What does its name mean and what do you think the bird might symbolize or represent?

10. Some of the characters in the novel seem to be holding onto the past, as evidenced by their love of vinyl records and 1970s "Blaxploitation" martial arts films. How do you think this attachment to the past affects the characters' grasp on their present realities?

11. Archy Stallings makes some questionable choices in his dealings with his wife, Gwen, his son, Titus, his partner, Nat, and his business rival, Gibson Goode. Do you find him a sympathetic character?

12. How would you assess the relationship between Julius and Titus? Is it a genuine friendship for both of them?

13. To what extent are the characters in this novel in control of their own destinies, and how much does the inevitability of uncontrollable change come into play?

14. The novel is filled with colorful, eccentric characters. Which did you feel were the most arresting? The most real? Why?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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